Cody was just 21 when he lost his mother to a tragic motorcycle accident. He was beyond devastated, and when his brother offered him drugs to deal with the pain and grief, Cody welcomed the escape.

Sadly, that decision led to an addiction that has haunted him for years and spiraled him into a life of loneliness on the streets of Baltimore …

As much as Cody wanted to quit over the years, he couldn’t shake his addiction. He tried attending some local recovery classes but relapsed. And at his lowest point of desperation, he tried to take his own life by plowing his car into a large tree. Thankfully, his life was spared. That’s when he decided to come to Helping Up Mission. In our Spiritual Recovery Program, Cody sees hope for the first time in a long time — hope that through Christ he can overcome his addiction and become the man God intended all along.

 

“I’m now a graduate and working on my second year clean! I have ambitions and plans and goals,” he says. “I’m starting college soon and have reconnected with my 10-year-old son. And I’m rebuilding my faith too. I’m going to Bible studies, joined the choir, and I pray every night.

“This place really will rebuild your life — take you from a disaster and make you into a polished gem. Without a doubt, it has saved my life.”

Thank you for helping Cody to see himself as God sees him, and for helping him pursue his full potential.

For Adam, the loss of his father coupled with the weight of family obligations, steered him into dependence on painkillers and eventually heroin. In an attempt to free himself from the family construction business and escape tradition, Adam went to school to pursue a degree in Political Science. He intended to “fight for the underdog”.

Little did he know that the underdog he would ultimately fight for would be himself. After coming to Helping Up, Adam began to make peace with his past and his background. Once a high school track athlete, Adam even began running again. And now, he runs for recovery. He believes that “running is a metaphor, not just for recovery, but for life itself”.

Adam will be the first to tell you that “a journey of a thousand miles begins one step at a time. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. If you put your mind to it, you can finish the race”.

Adam grew up in Baltimore County, in a loving family that attended a strict church where music and toys were forbidden. His parents left the church when he was 12 and his father died unexpectedly when Adam was 18. The passing of his father and shortly thereafter his uncles rendered him without male figures. He was told that it was time to “man up,” and observe the Italian tradition of proper mourning.

He went to Virginia Tech to get a degree in Construction Management and follow in the footsteps of his late father, but his education was derailed after a marijuana possession arrest. At this time Adam decided to change his education goals and moved back home to study Political Science. He wanted to fight for the underdog.

During college Adam pursued the “normal” habits of a student and drank alcohol and dabbled in marijuana but functioned. At this time Adam had a daughter, graduated college and took two years off.

He started Law School at University of Baltimore and he “never got into it to make money,” as he “expected more social justice.” The reality of Law School quickly made him disenchanted. He was during this period when Adam started experimenting with painkillers. His using quickly became a dependency which led to headaches and even seizures. Adam remembers stockpiling the medication, which did not last long, spending too much money and then one day a friend told him, “heroin was cheaper.” And soon his life spiraled out of control.

Life now involved, falling asleep at the wheel, breaking and wrecking cars, and ruining the relationship he had with his daughter’s mother. This spiral resulted in Adam moving back home and even stealing from his mother. All the while still working and attending Law School.

Inevitably Adam spent 30 days in Jail not thinking about the future, but how to get more heroin.

Helping Up Mission.

Upon arriving at HUM, Adam finally took the time to listen to his elders and just “sit still.” He started his work therapy in house keeping, which enabled him to satiate his desire to be of service. Today he is a graduate intern and he has been clean and sober for over a year.

Running

In October 2017 Adam started running for the first time since running high school track in 2002. “It doesn’t matter how fast you run, if you put your mind to it you can finish the race,” Adam transfixed in the metaphors like those in recovery tend to do. Physically he began to feel much better and working with HUM partner Back on My Feet enabled him to feel human. “We have great volunteers that give donations and help serve meals, In Back on My Feet, volunteers run with you, get to know you and your family, and actually treat you like people. Which is awesome, because most of us, for years have only been told that we are thieves, and liars, and criminals.”

Adam was focusing on running the 5k at the Baltimore Running Festival, but is now planning on running his first half-marathon!

Family

“My daughter’s mother would not let me in the house, my mother kicked me out, and my sister wouldn’t even talk to me,” Adam recalls. Fast forward, he returned from a week’s vacation – with his mom and sister, and his mom now lets him drive her car and stay at her house unsupervised! His sister communicates with him, and he even helps his daughter’s mother with stuff around her house!

His daughter would do an impression of Adam “sleeping at the wheel.” Now she cheers him on as he races and gave him a book entitled 50 Things I Love About My Daddy for Father’s Day. This “Mad-Lib” style book contains quotes such as “ I love how fast you run,” and “ I love that you never make me brush my teeth.” The transformation is really powerful when Adam honestly states, “ I knew I was being a terrible example, I was using just to be a bad dad, If I didn’t have the drugs I would be a dad at all.” Today, “Having a kid is the best adventure in the world, she is my inspiration!”

Today

Today Adam is on a spiritual walk. Helping other addicts or the homeless make him feel that “all of his messing up… can be for a purpose, positive. He quotes Paul’s letter to the Corinthians “the suffering of this present time are nothing compared to the glory that shall be restored to us.” 20 years from now Adam envisions his daughter realizing that he “was human, fell and got back up” Adam knows that he has “a long way to go,” but with the “support of the people who have gone through it already,’ it will help him get to the point that he can do it on his own.

Adam believes like Jesus said” it is mercy when a man can be who he deserves to be.”

 

Randy says that it is all about relationships. Randy grew up Catholic, but by the time he was 10 years old, his family stopped going to church. As he got a little older, he tried to find something spiritual. He says that “he always believed there was a God, but not in the structured way, or [he] only conceived of an angry, resentful God.” Randy always thought of himself as a good person, to whom bad things happened. Before entering the one-year residential Spiritual Recovery Program (SRP) at Helping Up Mission (HUM) in 2016, Randy lost his father, mother and close friend all within a very short period of time.  Maybe he had to lose all of these people to stand on his own and establish new relationships.

In the first few days at HUM, instead of losing people, he started to gain real friends. Kim Lewis, one of HUM’s Board members who co-leads the Choir and Band with Kirk Wise, invited Randy to join the choir only days after entering the SRP. Randy had never sung publically, although he had always performed in orchestra and band. He was extremely nervous when he started singing, particularly as he was one of two men singing tenor high parts.  Choir helped fill up his weekend with positive activity when he was on “blackout” (restricted to campus for 45 days). Now, Randy has joined the choir at his “home church”, St. Leo’s in Little Italy, and sings regularly at mass. He also attends recovery meetings on Sunday and Wednesday.

Music has become a huge part of his life. Randy comments, “It calms me down and has so much emotion”.  Kirk also teaches a class called “The Power of Music”.  Randy remembers a specific song that powerfully impacted him called “The Sower”. It compares people to soil and that with hard soil, God has to get in there and help break it down before nutrients and seed can be planted. A massive tree emerges as the result of the hard work.

Miss Kim also connected Randy to Monday night Bible Study at HUM, which is part of Randy’s weekly routine. Randy started helping out with playing the videos for Monday night Bible study, which taught him how to use the A/V system, a skill needed for Treatment Intern duties that were eventually assigned to him. Another door opened!

The Spiritual Retreats have also provided vital opportunities for life change. In the past and when he first entered the SRP at HUM, he always had to fill his time and space – filling the boredom led to drug use. But now, he feels better, describing this as “inner peace”. Randy explains, “I’m OK with myself”. He has moved from bored

om (or fear of it) to calm. He credits the spiritual retreats as part of this, attending Camp Wabanna, Bon Secours and CREDO.

Camp Wabanna contributed to this calm Randy feels by helping him be by himself. Randy doesn’t play sports, and so he spent  time in the beautiful environment sitting and reading his Bible. Within a group of 300 men in the SRP at one time, it can be easy to just see people in passing, but Randy felt that he took the time to really get to know people on this retreat.

At Bon Secours, he learned a discipline called the “Daily Examen”, crediting it for changing his life and outlook. He says, “It has put a new spin on life”. He used to think about what he didn’t do or accomplish in a day, but after learning the examen, he is reviewing what he accomplished over the day. It has turned his all of his thoughts from negative ones, to positive! He is sleeping better as a result, too.

Additionally, Randy has realized life “isn’t all about [him]”. Instead of reacting to everything in dramatic fashion, he is praying about things. He hadn’t realized before how much anxiety he was experiencing before because he dealt with it by “drinking and drugging”. He has realized that whatever is going on won’t kill him and that everyone has to suffer sometimes. He is starting to see things through God’s eyes and in a Christ-like form. He has been “promoted” to an Intern at HUM, and where he gets so much joy out of seeing other people grow – he’s so grateful.

Randy Has a Positive Outlook on Life 1

Randy is really learning how to build relationships

Randy has now been at HUM for nearly one year, he is performing his role as an Intern in the Treatment Office, and has entered a process of discernment with the Catholic Church about priesthood. He is seeking balance in life rather than vacillating between working crazy amounts and avoiding people with “me time”. He is learning to take little of everything at the “buffet of life”, but not overindulging on anything. Randy is really learning how to build relationships and says that “he never had friends like at HUM.”

Randy helps other people find their path!

In his role as an Intern, Randy has to deal with a lot of different personalities. He learns that he can’t put expectations on people because they all come from different backgrounds. And he is learning how to manage his own expectations about himself. If he can make it through the day without a drink, that is enough sometimes. This is some good training for him, particularly if he receives a call to priesthood, as he looks forward to working with people from all walks of life and helping them find their own way. This is really what gives him joy – helping other people find their path! And, it would not have been possible without the integration of spirituality in HUM’s programs.

 

Robert is 67 years old and just recently celebrated three years of hope being clean and sober after fifty-two years of addiction. Better known as Blue by everyone at HUM, he explains that someone once joked about him being one of the Blues Brothers and while he didn’t see the resemblance, he loves the blues so he let the nickname stick.

Blue was born in 1950 in Baltimore. He started drinking and smoking by the time he was twelve. At the age of fifteen, a friend’s older brother introduced him to heroin. He explains, “It was just the sixties. I was a hippy. I was high through the whole time. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was getting high off of something.”

Blue recalls, “This is the era of Vietnam with the draft. So, guys like me didn’t really have anything to look forward to. None of us wanted to fight in some jungle that didn’t make sense. So, when I went down to the draft board I was extremely high, and I never got drafted.”

Blue was arrested for possession of heroin.

In 1968, a month after graduating high school, Blue was arrested for possession of heroin. Blue said, “I went on methadone after I got busted. My mother and father didn’t have a clue what to do.” They took him to a psychiatrist who prescribed the methadone.

During this time, he met his wife and fell in love. They were both on methadone for ten years, and then he detoxed off of it. His wife was taken off of it abruptly and overdosed a few days later. Blue gave her CPR and brought her back to life. After a few days she overdosed again, and this time, he could not bring her back. Blue was devastated and did his best to bring up his daughters without their mother.

“I got high for fifty-two years.”

Blue explains, “I was jumping from one thing to another. I was in a program; I wasn’t in a program. I was shooting dope; I wasn’t shooting dope. I was drinking because I would go to that when I didn’t want to do dope because I would get strung out on it. I smoked a lot of weed. I got high for fifty-two years. I didn’t get high off of any one thing for fifty-two years, but I was getting high off of something for fifty-two years. I didn’t go three months where I didn’t get high a couple of times.”

“I got so cold.”

In 2000, Blue lost his job because he was shooting dope and couldn’t work without it. He ended up homeless and set up a makeshift shelter between two buildings. After about a year of living on the streets, he found an old broken-down hearse in a parking lot. The back was unlocked and he moved in. He remembers, “I almost froze to death on Christmas Eve in 2004. I was dope sick. I didn’t have any money. I went into the back of the hearse and covered up with every piece of clothing and blanket that I had. I got so cold. I will never forget that.” He went into a shop and sat there to try to warm up, but was forced to leave. As he was walking down the street, a lady saw he was distressed and let him sleep on her couch and get warm. “It was quite a Christmas. It is not something I am trying to go back to ever. When I see [homeless] guys come in here at night, I know what it is like.”

Blue had been in and out of programs so many times

In January 2014, Blue went to Bayview Hospital to detox. He had lost so much weight and gotten into such bad shape that he couldn’t walk. He was sent to a rehab center to regain the ability to walk. He was physically getting better. But in September of 2014, he took some pills and drank a pint of vodka and woke up in an ambulance on the way to St. Agnes. The social worker at St. Agnes told Blue’s wife about HUM. He had been in and out of programs so many times and had always focused on the physical and mental health side, but never had he thought about the spiritual aspect of recovery. When he arrived at HUM, they told him that it was a year-long program and he was not ready to commit to that. He admits that he thought, “Oh no! I am gone. I headed to the door. The only reason I came back is because my wife stayed at the desk and stared at me.”

“I was in really bad shape, really.”

The first three or four months Blue struggled and did not sleep much. “I was in really bad shape, really.” When asked what changed for him, he explains, “I stopped fighting God. It sounds like something you would say because it sounds good. Just the difference of not having to fight.” His entire life he had been an agnostic. He could not explain the existence of God and the existence of bad things at the same time. Now he says, “It has been a relief not to have to understand, I know what I know. I learn what I can. I help whoever I can. I do the best I can.”

Each week, at the graduation chapel, Blue sits in the same place and jumps up to give a hug and hope to those who are celebrating their graduation from the one-year Spiritual Recovery Program. He explains, “I feel very strongly emotionally about what is happening here. I know what it took for me to do it – to come in here and go for a year. I’ve been out there for so many years, and I’ve seen how this struggle is with drugs and alcohol. To me, a year is a miracle. So, yeah, I hug them guys when they make that year because you started something, and you finished it. We don’t do that a lot. We’re good at starting things, but not finishing them.”

“I came to understand that God kept me around…”

Blue is a graduate intern here at HUM as a Treatment Coordinator Assistant and sees his role now as to help others who are struggling to get clean. “I came to understand that God kept me around through all that stuff. God let me survive all of that. So what’s the purpose? I am 67 years old. I spent 52 of those 67 years getting high off of everything. So, I can look at my life in two ways; I’ve wasted my whole life. Or no, I’ve put 52 years of hard experience to understand the stuff nowadays. So, I choose the second.”

Blue is well known at HUM. He explains, “I am a firm believer that the small things in life make the difference. The big [things] are going to happen to everyone. The little ones are gifts. When someone talks to you and they actually care, it’s something you remember. It can make a huge difference in the rest of your day. It might make a difference in the rest of your life. Care might be the difference between life and death.” This New Year, Blue will continue to do what he can to offer hope to the hurting.

“I was using drugs for so long that I didn’t know how to live without them.”

Dustin was a Baltimore City firefighter when he fell through a flight of stairs and was injured. He was prescribed pain pills to help him recover, and “started needing more and more.”

“When I couldn’t pass the physical to go back to the department, the insurance got cut off, which means the doctor got cut off. I realized I was addicted and started feeling the withdrawal.” So, Dustin started buying pain pills on the street. When he couldn’t get them anymore, a buddy suggested trying heroin as a stronger and cheaper alternative.

He woke up one morning and couldn’t find any drugs. He remembers, “I was sitting around, hating myself, and hating life. I cursed God a lot and was wondering what went wrong.” A week earlier his sister and mom had tried an intervention. Dustin decided to try to detox and went to Bayview Hospital. He was in there for seven days when a social worker, “an angel on my shoulder” as Dustin puts it, came to him and explained that he needed to do something or he would die. She told him about Helping Up Mission and showed him videos of the Mission on YouTube, but he still wasn’t sure.

Eventually, Dustin decided to come to HUM. He remembers, “When the cab pulled up out front, I was scared and nervous. I was still sore and feeling [the effects of withdrawal]. I was using drugs for so long that I didn’t know how to live without them.”

At first, a year seemed daunting, but after three months of going to classes and chapel, he decided he wanted to stay. “I liked the way I was feeling. Every time I would see [my mom]; she would say ‘You’re looking good. You’re walking tall now. Keep it up.’”

“I started building a strong support network. I was making good friends. We started playing softball together. We were all learning to live again, learning to play again, learning to have fun again. Besides my family, the friends that I made here that are still my friends today; I consider them family now. There is no way we would be where we are now without each other’s support. We still hold each other accountable every day.”

When he came to HUM, Dustin knew his mother had terminal cancer. The time they had together while he was going through recovery allowed them to get to know each other better than ever before. Dustin remembers, “It was kind of a blessing that we knew she was terminal and we got to know each other [again]…it was liberating. One Sunday I visited her, and they did a church service in the cafeteria at the nursing home. We prayed together there for the first time probably since I was a little boy. I still remember that.”

After about six months, as Dustin was beginning to get his life together, he got a phone call that his four-year-old son had pneumonia and was in the hospital. Although they thought he was getting better, he did not begin to breathe on his own when the hospital removed the ventilator. Dustin was on his way to say his goodbyes to his son when his friends rallied around him. They wouldn’t let him go the hospital on his own. They were with him and went through the painful time with Dustin. While he was numb and thought about using again, he didn’t want to lose all of his progress and all the trust he had built back up. He didn’t want to disappoint those who believed in him. “I loved to see the look on my mom’s face. I loved that my daughter smiles back at me now.”

His mom’s health was deteriorating, and she could not make it to his son’s funeral. Three weeks later, Dustin’s sister called to say that his mother only had a day or two left. He and his sister spent the night with his mom as she passed away. “I just felt gratitude. If I would have picked up [and started using] after my son passed away, then I wouldn’t have been able to be there with my mom. It just kind of put everything in perspective for me. As hard as it was, it was peaceful. We were able to be there with her. I was clean and clear-minded. I was at peace, and she was at peace.”

Dustin explained how he continued his recovery during this difficult time. “I leaned on my network. That is a big part of my story; I had that positive network.” He remembers, “It was hard at first. All I knew is that I had to keep moving forward.” A few days after his mom had passed away, Mike Rallo encouraged Dustin to share his story with the new guys at HUM. “It was an emotional day. When I walked out of there, I just felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.” It was also an opportunity for him to help others at HUM. “Before, I thought nobody’s going to learn from me.” Now he can see that others learn from his struggles and how he got through it.

Dustin graduated in November of 2015. Shortly after graduation, Dustin and his close friends were all offered staff positions at HUM. He recalls, “To be able to give back to a place that saved all of our lives, it was awesome.” He continues, “It’s about the guys that are here in the program. Just to be able to give back to them, it’s a special place, and I feel it when I walk in here.”

Dustin has a new life after coming to HUM. In August, he had a new a life come into the world when he and his wife had a baby boy. “Hopefully I went through the struggles so he won’t have to.” Dustin’s daughter is eleven now, and he gets to be there for her, too. “I love being a dad.”

Dustin says that those who support HUM matter. “You save lives every day. I’m not just thankful, but I’m sure my family is. I’m sure my kids are. I’m sure my mom was thankful to have her son for her last six months – her real son, not her son who was showing up high.”

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Jake is 32 years old and working on his bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore; he has plans to earn his Masters in Public Health to work on water security or to develop vaccines. Looking back at everything that brought him to this point in his life, Jake says that he is, “grateful for the Helping Up Mission and for everything I’ve been through.” He believes that “not everyone’s life has to be reduced to shambles, but I’m grateful because maybe if mine didn’t, I might be living a mediocre life.”

Jake grew up in Severn where he went to several small, religious schools. His parents divorced when he was eight years old, but he continued to have relationships with both his mother and father and knew that they both loved him. Jake’s father was more like a best friend growing up – he was always encouraging, but rarely disciplined Jake. 

He remembers, “I figured out pretty early that, if I can project the appropriate image, then I can get away with anything.” Jake had always been a good child and had earned his parent’s trust, so he barely had any oversight at that point in his life. He explains that he liked the “thrill of living a double life.”  In high school, Jake started using a variety of different recreational substances off and on.  After he graduated high school, he says, “I just wasn’t expecting the lack of direction that I had in life.  ” That hit me really hard because I had all the confidence in the world throughout high school that, in spite of my behavior, I thought I could have anything in the world that I wanted.”  Eventually, Jake started “relying on drugs to get any enjoyment out of life.” 

Jake

He remembers that “I didn’t want to do school anymore. I didn’t really want to do anything anymore.” After he had wrecked a car, he was sent to a strict rehab facility and then tried other rehab programs.  Jake recalls, “I hated the life I had and didn’t know how to stop or make it change.” So, he believes that he made one of his best decisions and joined the military.  He has always had an interest in the medical field, so he joined the Navy to serve in the medical corps.   

During the five years in the Navy, Jake trained in Illinois and served in Italy and Pearl Harbor.  He was also able to serve on a six-month humanitarian mission to Central and South America.  Jake says the military “let me travel, let me know that I could do anything that I put my mind to, gave me friends around the globe, and gave me ideas for my future.” While he may have had the opportunity to drink with his peers, Jake recalls that substance abuse was not an option for him while in the Navy. 

When he got out of the Navy, Jake had the best of intentions.  “I got out thinking that I was different enough that coming back here everything would be different.  It wasn’t really true. I came back to the same old frustrations, the same old obstacles.” “I can’t remember what the first reason I went back to using drugs was, except maybe boredom.”  Although he had a job he loved, Jake went back to his old ways and struggled for two years with his addiction. 

His older brother told him about Helping Up Mission, so he came to HUM for the first time in 2015.  “All II wanted was to salvage what was left of my life.  I didn’t know anything about really addressing me at the core and what is wrong. And I didn’t even really care to do that.  I was too scared to do that. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t think it was necessary. I just wanted to protect the few things I had in this world – a car, apartment, and a few decent relationships.   I just wanted to stop digging the hole deeper.” Jake stayed for about three months but wanted to get back to his life as quickly as possible. 

Two months after he left HUM, Jake was “way out of control. It was my worst ever. There was daily use of heroin and cocaine.” His family was worried, and his sister staged an intervention, but he didn’t get the help he needed. He just kept using. It wasn’t until he overdosed and got in another car accident before Jake felt broken enough to see that he needed help.  Two days later, Jake came “crawling back in the doors of HUM.”

This time around, Jake entered HUM with a quiet new focus.  He found a couple of guys that he could relate to, stuck with them, and then really did some introspection.  He has taken advantage of the mental health counselors during this time at HUM.  “Before, I had no desire to really dig.  I was too afraid of what I would find.  Now I know that there is no hope of hope if I don’t do what is uncomfortable.”

Jake has learned to cut himself a break and to stop clinging to his past.  He now knows to take responsibility for the things he needs to, but that he isn’t responsible for the things he can’t control.  “I walked into the doors this time and just let go of the entire outside world.  I was no longer trying to save anything from the past.  I just knew that I needed to get myself straight.”

Jake says just hearing that “I am a wicked sinner and it’s okay” really helped him.  Now he knows that he “doesn’t need to be righteous for God to love me, or for me to love myself.”

Since coming to HUM, Jake has realized that he can combine the strengths of the 12 step program with his faith to make recovery work for him. In fact, Jake is the Secretary of his AA home group and enjoys serving in this way.  “I have been fortunate to find a meeting where I connect with the guys there.”

Jake will stay at HUM through graduation this time but then plans to move on and finish up his schooling.  Because he has allowed himself to focus on his recovery during his stay at the Mission, Jake is celebrating his independence and believes God knows how his future will all work out.

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Julio knows how it feels to be successful in the world’s eyes, but had to learn to be still and serve in order to succeed in his recovery.

Julio Santana grew up in an upper middle class family in Baltimore.  His father was an electrical engineer and his mother was a dermatologist, both at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  He attended private school where he played football and baseball, and sang in the choir.  His success in high school led him to Tuskegee University.  He graduated from Tuskegee with a degree in finance.

Julio started using alcohol as a teenager.  His cousin gave him his first 40-ounce bottle while he was in tenth grade and he realized that it helped him relax.  Drinking became a social part of Julio’s life and he continued drinking throughout college.

After graduation from Tuskegee, Julio started working in Virginia at a job that required him to “wine and dine” clients with an unlimited expense account.  He was living the dream with five cars and an amazing apartment.  After three years, he left this job because the multiple promotions and great material goods were not enough.  He wanted more.  Julio admits that his drinking increased during this time, but he was still functioning.

On September 11, 2001, Julio returned to the Baltimore area to start a new job in mortgage banking.  He had incredible financial success and worked for three years in the industry. But that still wasn’t enough.

He eventually left the mortgage banking firm in order to partner with his best friend in a fast food franchise.  They built up their new store and again found success.  The shop was ranked fifth in the region for the first three years that Julio and his partner owned the store.  That led to the decision to open a second store, all before he had turned thirty years old!

Looking back, Julio can see that the second shop was a mistake.  It cost more money to start and was a “problem store” from the start.  Also, next door to the store was a bar.  Julio became an absentee owner and let the teenagers working behind the counter more or less run the shop.  He had always been the responsible one, the one to fix problems, but he wasn’t that guy this time around.  He ended up having to sell the store and had to start all over again. 

This time Julio worked in the home repair business and did much of the actual labor himself.  He felt his life spinning out of control at this point, but still didn’t realize he was an alcoholic.

It took the death of his parents to open his eyes.  Julio’s mother had been ill and he felt bad that his father had been the one taking care of his mom, when Julio felt he should have been the one helping out.  After his mother passed away, Julio’s father told Julio that he was wasting his gifts because of alcohol.  But Julio still didn’t think he had an addiction; he thought addictions could only happen if he used hard drugs.  One of the last things Julio’s father said to Julio was, “Son, please stop drinking”.

After the death of both parents, Julio tried to clean up and was sober for several months.  But one day the pressures of life, the guilt and the shame all just caused him to give up.  He ended up sabotaging a job he was on and left to get drunk.

It took Julio three tries to get into Helping Up Mission.  On his first attempt, he arrived and had to wait to get in the door, but he wasn’t ready so he gave up and left.  On his second attempt, he came with too much luggage.  He wasn’t ready to let go of his material things and so he returned to a friend’s house (he had no other place to go) thinking he would never come back.  But, God had different plans for Julio.  On Veteran’s Day of 2015, Julio only had $5 on him and was so depressed that he knew he had to do something.  He walked for two and a half hours, stopped for one last beer, and then caught a ride to the train station to get to HUM. 

Although he had still packed several bags to bring with him, at some point he had to surrender it all and start fresh.

At first, he was afraid and he had a rough start.  It took him until around the sixty-day point to get comfortable with the idea that he was exactly where he needed to be.  Julio had borrowed a truck from a friend, but it broke down and he saw that as “a sign” to sit still and focus on his one-year in the Spiritual Recovery Program.

Julio graduated in November and is currently a graduate intern in the IT department at HUM. During his time here, Julio learned to sit still and to take responsibility for things again.  He also learned that helping doesn’t mean that you will fix a problem for another person; it means guiding people to a better way and then allowing them to go make it happen. 

Shortly before graduation, Julio took a Peer Advocate Training course.  This training will allow Julio to work in emergency rooms and counsel (as a peer) to those in need.  He can help in a specialized way that doctors and nurses aren’t always able to because they do not have first-hand experience of recovery.  He can advocate for and educate those in need and then help them so that they won’t necessarily need to return to the ER.

Whether Julio will choose to work in the IT field or as a Peer Advocate is not quite clear to him.  It is clear that helping people is a passion that burns deep within!  But right now, he needs to sit still and let God call the shots for his future.  With that as his plan, he can’t go wrong.

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Richard is no longer wandering the streets. Instead, he is spending this Christmas with family!

Richard, 58, has lived his whole life in Baltimore. Dad was a steelworker and mom stayed home, taking care of the four children.

Richard remembers his grandmother struggled with alcoholism and was reclusive. While he didn’t like that about her, he started to drink, himself, by age 13. “I was small in stature and shy,” he says, “and it helped me fit in better. It gave me ‘beer muscles’.”

Looking back, Richard says he was an alcoholic by 16.  Still, although drinking regularly and working a side job, he did earn his high school diploma.

But, at 19, his parents couldn’t tolerate his drinking and “invited” him to leave the family home.  On his own, and continuing to drink, Richard kept steady employment in local restaurants. A hard worker, he often received raises and promotions. Then, at age 28, his boss invited him to his first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting.

It was a moment of clarity! Richard bought into the 12 Steps of AA and began faithfully working the program. A couple of years later, his girlfriend, the mother of his son, agreed to marry him. Richard remembers this as a good time in his life and he stayed sober for eight years.

But, he started getting bored with his daily routine. “Life got kind of stale,” he says. One day, Richard decided to take a drink – even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop. Within a year, he was divorced. While he cared about his son and saw him almost daily, Richard admits it wasn’t quality time.

The two of them became estranged when Richard was sent to jail for a year. In fact, they only saw each other once during the following decade – at the viewing for Richard’s mother after her death. By that time, his son was on his own journey of alcoholism… and recovery, with two years clean.

In her later years, Richard’s mother needed 24-hour supervision because she was now blind and diabetic. Still bored with his life, Richard moved into her house and cared for her – all-day, everyday for seven years until her death. But that was okay with him because he could also isolate from the world and keep drinking.

After his mom died, Richard remained isolated and drinking in her house. But after two years and numerous unpaid bills, his sister evicted him. Richard says, “While I wasn’t shocked, I still had no plan. I was penniless and had this feeling of impending doom. I cared, but knew I was powerless – and that it was my own fault.”

Then something happened. A friend tricked Richard into attending an AA meeting because she knew his son would be there. The two exchanged pleasantries and his son introduced Richard to two ladies at the meeting.

The next week, now homeless and penniless, Richard was standing on a Baltimore street looking at a store window display. Inside, one of the women from the AA meeting recognized him and came out. They talked and she promised to take him to an AA meeting where he could learn about a program that might really help him. 

As a recluse, Richard was afraid of programs, but agreed to go to the meeting. There he met three guys from Helping Up Mission who shared about HUM’s 12-month residential Spiritual Recovery Program. After hearing their stories and seeing how they were doing now, Richard felt a spark of hope.

But, it was the Labor Day weekend and there were no intakes until Tuesday. Richard prayed, asking God to keep him alive until he could get to HUM.

Then, an AA friend from years ago recognized Richard and offered to take him to his home for those three days. Richard slept on his couch, got cleaned up, ate good food and went to more meetings with his friend.

Upon arrival at HUM, Richard said, “I was looking for all of the homeless people, but I couldn’t see anyone who looked like me. The moment I walked in I felt hope!”

But Richard was in terrible shape – 115 pounds and couldn’t get up out of a chair on his own. And, after nearly a decade of isolation, being in the midst of 500 men on the HUM campus wasn’t easy. “But I noticed I was getting better,” he says. “My life was changing and I could see it. I could even look people in the eyes again.”

Richard’s daily work responsibilities on campus also required him to interact with many new people. He met guys serious about their recovery and they became friends, even helping him reconnect with his son.

Today they’re doing much better. “It’s amicable,” he says, “no longer about the past. He believes I am sorry. We love each other.”

Richard also reached out to his ex-wife and thanked her for raising their son. He even reconnected with the sister that evicted him.

This fall Richard celebrated one-year of sobriety and graduated from our one-year Spiritual Recovery Program. “I am truly learning what it means to live one day at a time,” he says.

Thanks to you…Richard no longer wonders the streets, isolated and homeless. As a HUM graduate he continues to live and work on our campus – and this year Richard will be spending Christmas with his family – at his sister’s house!

"I will spend Christmas at my sister’s house." 1

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I grew up in West Baltimore – in Sandtown. There was my mom, my younger brother and his dad in the house. But, I didn’t know he was my step-father; I thought he was my dad until I was 12 when we moved out to Park Heights. It was hard when I found out he wasn’t my biological father, but I realized eventually that he was my “dad”.

My relationship with my mom, even in the middle of my mess, was good. She would always try to find a way to help me get better.

I started trying drugs when I was 8 or 9 – marijuana. But, it wasn’t an every-day thing until I was 15 or 16 because of limited access – by then I had a job and associates to get it from. I started using cocaine at 17.

I put myself out of school when I was in 8th grade [by acting out]. My mom wouldn’t let me be in the house unless I was learning, so the principal that expelled me from Greenspring Middle helped me get into an alternative school. Just two weeks from completing my GED, I got in an altercation and got myself put out again.

I left home when I was 19. From 17 on, I was back and forth with girlfriends and families in a couple places. I met my daughter’s mother and she had my daughter. Her mom didn’t want anything to do with me because I didn’t have a high school diploma or college. But, I always kept a job.

I could always go home, but I chose to live on the streets. Whenever I would call my mom, she would say I could come home. But I told her I was alright, and I was under the illusion that I was taking care of myself.

I first came to HUM in 1998, when I was 28 years old. I only stayed for a week. I tried other recovery programs over the years, including another time back at HUM. I spent time in jail – for things I did and for things I did not do. I had jobs on and off – which also provided access to substances.

On Memorial Day 2012, the love of my life was taken away from me. She was murdered, and I lost my mind. I tried everything not to feel what I was feeling. Marijuana didn’t do it. Coke didn’t do it. As I was on my way to go buy some coke, an associate asked how I was doing. I said that I was trying to find something to numb the pain. He gave me a gram of raw dope. I didn’t like the way it made me feel, but it took away the pain. What I didn’t realize was that my using heroin to take away the pain was causing me even more pain. I came home one day and the locks were changed.

Eventually, in March 2016 I found my way back to HUM. I didn’t talk to other people when I came here; just the people who came in with me. We made a pact to be here for the year. Since I have been here, I’ve been dealing with my anger and changing my heart.

When the euphoria of getting high was gone, I became a very, very, very angry individual. I was angry at myself, angry at the world, and angry at the dude that took my wife from me. In my second week here, I was going to leave, but my Father [God] sent my Treatment Coordinator to come talk to me. I told him, “It’s my birthday and I don’t want to feel what I feel. The only way that I know how to deal with it is to get high.” He suggested I talk to the Director of Spiritual Life about my anger. I was looking for the quick fix – I thought he would give me a verse or a book to go read, but it wasn’t that simple. He gave me a bunch of reflective assignments. Every time I was in the recovery process, I thought it was about changing my thinking. But for me, it wasn’t about changing my thinking, but about changing my heart. And everything else will follow.

Now, I’m staying at HUM; I’m working on getting my high school diploma and I’m responsible for the housekeeping in three buildings. I’m working on other things, like vulnerability. I don’t have a problem being vulnerable to the Father because I know he is not going to hurt me and has my best interests; my problem is being vulnerable with people. Learn to distinguish which people who have your best interest at heart. The people at HUM have my best interest at heart. But I resist it; I don’t want you to know that I have any vulnerability in me. I don’t want you to know that I have the fillling of a Twinkie in me. Sometimes there’s a time to be angry, but I just don’t want to be angry anymore.

I don’t know what’s next for me; I just go where my Father tells me to go and do what He tells me to do.

Here’s a WBAL news segment that featured Anthony early in his time at HUM:

You may have heard about Mark Ramiro in the news. Late one night in July 2014, he was with several friends – all high on drugs. They were filming stunts in the basement of his South Baltimore home, until things went fatally awry. Mark’s friend of 15 years, Darnell Mitchell, strapped on a bulletproof vest and asked to be shot in the chest. But Mark aimed inches too high, and the bullet hit Darnell just above the vest. Mark rushed his friend to the hospital, but it was too late.  

Mark came to Helping Up Mission in June 2015. He had already successfully participated in several short-term recovery programs, but he was still awaiting sentencing, and constantly wrestling with the trauma and shame of what he had done. In March 2016, Mark Ramiro was sentenced to 4 years – but he went to prison with 9 months’ clean time and, more importantly, a new perspective on his past and his future. Our chaplain, Vic King, spoke with Mark in jail.

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Both my parents worked all the time to put food on the table, so I was pretty much on my own with my friends. I didn’t really know who I was, because I looked Filipino, but I talked and carried myself more as a West-Baltimore American. I just went with the flow. I started experimenting with alcohol and weed in middle school, and by 9th grade I was a real heavy weed smoker.

When I was 21, I went to art school in PA and got a degree in fashion marketing. I was making and selling t-shirts, doing tattoos, and filming music videos for local rap artists. But I started using pills – Percocets, Oxys, Opanas, Benzos – and it started affecting my whole character. And that led to my friend’s death.

You came to HUM on house arrest. What was it like at first?

Well, I broke the record for the longest restriction in Helping Up history (laughs) – it was either HUM or going to jail. So when I first got there I was upset; I didn’t want to be there. But I found Pastor Gary and Mike Rallo interesting. Pastor Gary would make me write the character quality of the week on the board every morning, because of my artistic skills.

I got real close to different guys. Mike is the security guy at the 23 desk, and they put me there for work therapy. We didn’t talk much at first. But he’s a giver, always helping other guys, and I would just observe him. Then we started talking. He trusted me for some reason, and that meant a lot to me. He could tell when I was going through stuff.

What aspect of HUM’s program helped you the most?

For me, I liked the spirituality – reading the Bible, praying, talking, meditating. A lot of times I would slip into the chapel, and sit in the corner where nobody could see me, and just think.

So how has God helped you in the midst of all this mess?

He’s helped me in trying to forgive myself, helped me not blame other people for my own screw-ups, helped me be open with other people, to talk with people. A lot of times in my life, I was antisocial. Maybe it was my character or maybe it was due to my drug addiction, I don’t know. But I try to follow what I’ve seen.

Before your sentencing, you were able to meet with your friend Darnell’s family. What was that like?

It was emotional, but it was good. It broke the ice. They were upset at me, which they have every right to be. I can’t be mad at that. For what I did, they were upset, but they were open, and they were forgiving. They hugged me a bunch of times. They told me how it hurt them, how it affected them. I apologized – words can’t express how sorry I am.

Describe your transition from HUM to prison.

Court was nerve-wracking. You pray for the best and expect the worst. I got nine years with five suspended. God works in mysterious ways, and I think he prepared me for that. Nobody wants to go to jail. I don’t care who you are, this place is not for anybody.

It was different from 2014 when I came here; it just felt different. I’m happy. Not to say I’m happy to be here, but I’m cool. I know this is temporary. I don’t know what the Big Man’s plans are for me, but this is part of it. This was like the icing on the cake to set things straight. And I think this is Him testing me too… Is this kid going to turn his back on Me? Is he going to lose his faith? Is he going to give up?

I still pray, frequently. I was reading the Gospel of John this morning. I think my faith in God kept me together. ‘Cause if you knew me then, and if you know me now, you could tell. I’m in the system… and I’m cool. I know it’s temporary. Walking around with a chip on your shoulder is not going to help. At all.

What are your hopes for life after prison?

I’m going to get a job, stay sober. I’m going to continue to do my artwork – paint, draw, hopefully open a t-shirt business. I want to tell people my story – the mistakes, the drug addiction – and see if I can help someone.

What would you want people to take from your story?

Be yourself, be honest. Have faith… because you have to lean on something beyond yourself. If you put yourself first, and you think it’s all about you, then you’re already lost. Stay clean, stay drug-free. I know it’s cliché to say, but it doesn’t lead anywhere but jail or death. God didn’t give you the blessing of life to waste it and to get trashed every day. You weren’t put on this earth for that. I’m happy to wake up every day, open my eyes and breathe.

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